Evaporative loss of moderately volatile metals from the superheated 1949 Ma Sudbury impact melt sheet inferred from stable Zn isotopes

1Balz S.Kamber,2,3Ronny Schoenberg
Earth and Planetary Science Letters 544, 116356 Link to Article [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.epsl.2020.116356]
1School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Queensland University of Technology, Australia
2Isotope Geochemistry, Department of Geosciences, Eberhard-Karls University of Tuebingen, Germany
3Department of Geology, University of Johannesburg, South Africa
Copyright Elsevier

The retention of moderately volatile elements on the growing Earth remains a major uncertainty in models of terrestrial accretion. Large impactors were the main carriers of accreted material but their mutual energetic collisions and impacts onto the Earth also caused chemical fractionation for which limited experimental data exist. The objective of this work was to study several moderately volatile elements in the third-largest impact basin preserved on Earth at Sudbury, Ontario. We conducted a new chemostratigraphic transect (
) of Zn isotope ratios and concentrations by analysing melt sheet and basin fill samples. The data were compared to common Pb, Cs, Cd and Sb concentration systematics. Within the crystallised melt sheet there are strong trends in the extent of moderately volatile element deficits, Zn isotope composition (
ZnJMC-L from 0.18 to 0.47‰) and initial Pb isotope composition. The combined evidence suggests that these trends reflect footwall contamination of a melt sheet that had experienced evaporative Zn-loss of up to 75–80%. Accounting for plausible isotopic signatures of target rocks, the maximum mass-dependent Zn isotope fractionation ε was 0.29 ± 0.04‰ (1 s.d.), which translates to modest fractionation factors
to 0.99975. This is comparable to melt fallout-glass and fused sands from nuclear detonation sites. We attribute the observed Zn loss and isotope fractionation to the formation of the impact melt. The rapid formation of a solid lid of breccias upon seawater ingress may have prevented stronger evaporative loss and isotope fractionation. Within the crater fill, there is an up-stratigraphy increase in Zn isotope variability (
ZnJMC-L from 0.29 to 1.05‰). Combined with evidence for biogenic reduced C, this suggests sedimentation of authigenic particulates within an enclosed crater sea.

In the melt sheet, the Zn-Pb and Rb-Cs pairs experienced different extents of maximum evaporative loss (Pb up to 98.4% vs. Zn 78%; and Cs ∼90% vs. Rb ∼30%). The relative loss pattern could reflect evaporation from superheated silicate melt at ∼1,450 °C and 1 atm. Loss from super-liquidus melts formed by bolide impacts could have been a significant process shaping the Earth’s volatile and moderately volatile inventory.


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